Skip to main content

Mac Help: Should I buy the non-Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro?

It costs $1,099, making it cheaper than a Retina model by $200. Given that it's an older, slower machine that hasn't been updated since 2012, it's easy to overlook. But it's also the only MacBook that still ships with an optical drive, and that can be appealing for education and travel.

J.R. writes:

Is the standard 13-inch MacBook Pro still worth getting?

Inside the standard MacBook Pro is an Intel Core i5 "Ivy Bridge"-era processor — current for the model year, but one major generation behind compared to current Mac models. It's clocked at 2.5 GHz. The MacBook Pro uses Intel HD Graphics 4000 integrated graphics. The older CPU isn't quite as energy efficient as the Haswell processors found in newer Mac laptops, so it only gets about 7 hours per charge compared to 9 estimated hours per charge in the Retina models. The graphics are slower too.

$1,099 gets you 4 GB of RAM and a 500 GB hard disk drive, making the MacBook Pro the only Mac laptop left with an internal hard disk drive (the MacBook Air and Retina MacBook Pro use much faster, more durable solid state storage instead).

The standard MacBook Pro is also the only Mac left that packs an internal CD/DVD "SuperDrive." If you need one for any other Mac, you have to buy an external SuperDrive for another $80.

So, it's heavier, bigger, and slower than the Retina MacBook Pro. Pass on it, right?

Not so fast. The standard MacBook Pro is the also only Mac laptop you can get that has user-upgradeable RAM. You can bump it up to 16 GB using aftermarket RAM from third-party resellers.

Putting RAM in this MacBook Pro model is not trivial, but at least the RAM isn't soldered to the motherboard as it is with MacBook Airs and Retina MacBook Pros, so you can can upgrade it if you want to.

What's more, the hard drive is a standard SATA-equipped 2.5-inch mechanism, which can also be replaced with a larger, faster drive, or with an SSD, which will make the MacBook Pro quite peppy. I've done SSD conversions on even older MacBook models, including a white polycarbonate plain old MacBook from 2009, and it makes a big difference in performance.

CD and DVD reading and writing capability isn't really something high on a lot of our priority lists anymore, thanks to the use of cloud services that can handle huge amounts of data. If you fall into that category and you frankly couldn't care less about using optical media, it's interesting to note that Other World Computing sells a Data Doubler (opens in new tab) conversion kit that enables you to remove the internal SuperDrive all together and replace it with a second hard drive or SSD.

If you configure to order your MacBook Pro from Apple's online store, you can also bump up the processor to a 2.9 GHz Intel Core i7 model for an additional $150, which will give you a big performance boost. Integrated graphics remain a potential bottleneck depending on what you're doing, but it's still less than a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro.

If I were buying a new Mac laptop today, I'd strongly consider buying a Retina MacBook Pro or a MacBook Air before I'd buy the standard MacBook Pro. It's too long in the tooth to bother with at this point.

If I could find a really good deal on the regular MacBook Pro, or if I already owned one, I'd certainly be willing to put some money into upgrading it to keep it running well for a few more years before I sunk an investment into a brand new Mac.

Have a Mac question you need our help with? Email machelp@imore.com or drop it in our iMore ask a question forums, no registration required!

17 Comments
  • I own one of these machines and have upgraded the RAM, added a SSD and removed the SuperDrive to add another SSD making total storage 1.25 TB. Granted my machine is 2+ years old, I really want a 15 MacBook Pro. But is now the time to drop 3k plus on a machine that hasn't been updated in over a year? I wish Apple would put as much effort into refreshing the Mac Book Pro yearly as the iPad. I would feel more comfortable buying something that doesn't "seem" out dated. And I'm tried of hearing the "waiting on Intel" BS. Sent from the iMore App
  • They Would if Intel had not delayed their chips. Sent from the iMore App
  • I bought one for my wife in the Fall. She has 35000 photos (and growing) and wanted the larger storage option. We replaced the drive with a Seagate hybrid hard drive and it runs great. The average user should still be satisfied with this machine.
  • The plethora of upgrade options are precisely why I went for the Late 2011 17" MacBook Pro. Since then, I've slapped in 16 GB of RAM and a 1 TB SSD. This beauty hauls ass and keeps up with the youngin's. Do I miss AirDrop and Handoff? Some days, but I can "handoff" my Word docs via Dropbox, so it's all good.
  • Peter, I totally agree with you. Right now, at this point in time, the price of the Retina MBP is just too close to this laptop. I own this same model. I got the 2.9Ghtz i7 model as a refurbished from Apple's website in December 2012. Since then (and just as recently as this past December) I put in the max. amount of RAM (16GB, which Apple's website says it's only upgradable to 8 but in all actuality it's 16) and I added a Crucial MX100 512 GB SSD, both cost me a total of about $350 extra. But that was 2 years after I originally purchased the Machine. Installing the SSD was the best thing I did. It feels like I have a brand new computer, but even faster! I use the computer for work also. I run Parallels and use AutoCAD, Sketchup, Photoshop all with legacy PC software that I'm forced to continue using for work. This Mac is a champ. I don't regret not getting the Retina model but whenever I look at the screen I long for more pixels. That all being said, right now, if I were in the position (today) where I needed a new computer, I would consider this model, but then I would think, "heck, it would take too much extra money to upgrade everything just to equal the Retina model, and even then you don't get a retina screen or the latest processor family!" So unless you really want the ability to DIY upgradable Mac, which some tinkerers out there really want, and you're just an average user that doesn't need an optical drive, get the Retina model. Plus, like me, you might be able to find the model you want on Apple's refurbished section (which they conveniently hide in the bowels of their website). At the time, I got mine at a $400 discount from a brand new model with the same specs. P.S. I'll also add that I did the same upgrade to my girlfriend's mid-2009 MBP...same SSD but the max RAM was only 8GB back then...and I think i've added another couple years to her Mac. That's really crazy impressive. I just hope Apple continues to support that model with OS X upgrades. That's really my only worry about putting so much extra money into my machines. But I'm guessing my 2012 model with be supported for at least 2-4 more years. Her's maybe this is the last year, but At least I can still eBay it (Pulling out the SSD first) and start fresh.
  • I went through the same thought process when my MacBook Pro 15" (Early 2008) literally started falling apart. I checked the refurb store and decided on the MacBook Pro 15" (Mid-2012) and couldn't be happier. It came with 4 GB RAM and 500 GB rotational drive, now replaced with 16 GB RAM and 1 TB SSD. The processor is more than enough for what I do, haven't ever see it pegged, whereas the Core 2 Duo in the prior would often huff and puff and get the fans going during everyday tasks. This machine also has FW800 and Ethernet ports, so I don't have to fiddle with adapters. Couldn't be happier and saved about $1000 versus the latest shiny.
  • I was confused between this and MBA 13" (Early 2014) and I eventually went with MBA 13".. Why?
    1) I needed a machine which I can carry easily(MBA is mighty light and thin)
    2) MBA would take couple of iterations of OS X in future
    3) flash storage
    4) Haswell processor I know it lacks storage but that can be sorted out with an external HDD. RAM is the onky gripe which I have but I really haven't experienced any slowness. I usually use MS Office, iPhoto, Microsoft RDP tool .
  • Huge typo on paragraph six: "Air" instead of "Pro".
  • I had the 2012 model then went to the 2014 retina pro. You notice how heavy the 2012 model really was after holding an air or a retina macbook pro. Also nothing beats a retina screen as reading is crisp. My eyes actually hurt after using my mom's 2012 retina pro. I'd say if you were to buy it in 2015 you'd HAVE to upgrade it. You'll probably experience some beach balls and the start up time will feel like forever. If you're in a budget it's a great camputer but if you want something that's screen is better, lasts longer, and you don't need to spend so much on upgrades...go for the retina. You won't regret it.
  • I don't understand your assertion that "Putting RAM in this MacBook Pro model is not trivial." Swapping out the RAM on this model is just about as easy as it gets for a notebook. Remove one panel, and you have access.
  • All well and true. But I'm never purchasing a non "retina" display on anything ever again.
  • This x10. Sent from the iMore App
  • It all comes dow to your needs. If your into music recording, the i5 s nice, but your really need the i7, and the i7 does not come in the 13 inch. At least you can up the ram, and change the hard drive. It is almost three years old. How much longer can it support updates? Things to think about before buying. Sent from the iMore App
  • Have the 13 inch non retina on my mind since a month....have gone through n number of reviews and comparisons between non retina MBP vs air vs retina MBP.....Buying it for sound recording and music production....your final take/ advice/ suggestion would be helpful :)
  • I couldn't justify spending over a grand on anything and thinking about what I have to do to upgrade it before I even get out of the store. All of the other stuff aside, I'd shy away from an Apple SuperDrive. You can get a third party drive with BlueRay support for less than the SuperDrive.
  • NO! Sent from the iMore App
  • I've been using my 2008 MacBook Pro since it first came out, this year I upgraded the ram to 8Gb and replaced the HDD with a SSD. The DVD was replaced with a 1TB drive and it's been great. It's like new, I'd always recommend the non retina unit as Apple laptops can last years if looked after. Just imagine having to discard a laptop just because you have run out of hard drive space. Sent from the iMore App